Monday 6 August 2012

An Untimely Demise of Diablo 3

I wouldn't have posted this on my History blog if I did not think that it could somehow relate to an industry where I might end up working one day. I'm talking about the game development industry which encompasses     a variety of skill sets, now more than ever. A massive triple A Game developer like Blizzard Entertainment, beginning as a humble developer has over the last decade grown into one of the most successful game developers of all time, with their game Diablo 3 topping the charts as one of's most pre-ordered game of all time. I myself am a casual gamer, and by casual I mean I don't spend a huge amount of time playing one single game as some people devote themselves to, the game I've played the longest also happens to be one of Blizzard's titles that being World of Warcraft which I played for about 2 years, taking a two year break in between and them playing for an additional three months after finaly becoming bored and giving up.

This post however is not about my World of Warcraft adventures but about Diablo 3 and my dissatisfaction with how Blizzard handled one of their most popular franchises by involving real money. Back in 2000 Blizzard released the sequel to their critically acclaimed Diablo game from 1996, it was an instant classic. The game is an action RPG(role playing game) in which the player takes control of one of five 'classes' , heroes with specific abilities and specialties. The game plays in a hack 'n slash style where the player is required to complete quests by defeating enemies and earning experience which leads to leveling up and your character becoming stronger. Throughout the players adventures they are required to complete quests and collect to upgrade your arsenal be it weapons, armor, or magic trinkets. In Diablo 2 the maximum level is 99 and is considered almost impossible to reach, taking months upon months of 'farming' or killing monsters over and over again to earn experience. If that wasn't bad enough, experience at that level range is only awarded if the player kills monsters that are within the level range which means having to farm the highest difficulty level : Hell. In this difficulty mode, the monsters are much stronger and some are completely immune to specific attacks so there is an immense amount of strategy involved when having to kill monsters or bosses, and on top of that, every time the player dies they loose a portion of their earned experience. The multiplayer in diablo 2 featured a ladder system in which players were ranked either by level (whoever was closest to level 99) or by player kills obtained through the player vs player mode (where you fight other players rather than monsters). That ladder system reset every 6 months, and the game has been going for about 12 years, and the servers are still up and running even with the release of Diablo 3.

As I said I am not a hardcore gamer, however I have been following a gentleman on his youtube channel, which you can find here - . Even though I am not playing Diablo 3 anymore, I am still watching his videos for entertainment value, however he has recently stopped posting Diablo 3 content, and this is what made me want to write this entry. Diablo 2 servers are still running after 12 years, and will most likely continue to run until there is nobody playing the game. Since the game is so old, and there are not nearly as many players as there were 8 or 10 years ago I assume that the server load is relatively small, and the upkeep costs are even smaller, so we wont see Diablo 2 die just yet.

While I was excited for Diablo 3, it came as no surprise that I wasn't utterly thrilled when the game finally released in May earlier this year, 12 years. We had to wait 12 years for a new Diablo game, one of the longest development times in history, and when it finally came to be I couldn't be more disappointed. Not with the game itself however, it was the way Blizzard handled the release and the god awful DRM(digital rights management). The release day went horribly, the servers were overloaded and people could not get into the game. For single player. That's right, Diablo 3 was an always-on-line game. If you have no internet connection you can't play. Further more, you had to maintain a constant internet connection while you played, if your connection went down you got disconnected from the game. Many people were outraged that they couldn't play the game on release day, even though they ticked all the boxes. They had internet connections, they had spent the 60 dollars on the game, there was just one problem: they could not even log in to the servers to play the single player mode, single player mode, where you are alone, without people, with no justifiable need for an internet connection(did I mention that in Diablo 2 you only had to have an internet connection if you wanted to play with others?)

Always-on-line antics aside, the reason I wanted to post this is because, as I've pointed out in my introduction an issue that indirectly relates to an industry that I might end up working in. The issue is how Blizzard decided to handle trading items or 'gear' between players. Once you acquire items by killing monsters you have several options. If it's a good item you will probably want to use it as an upgrade to your current gear, if it's a bad item you will most likely vendor it to an in-game merchant for some in-game gold which you can then use to purchase a better item. The final option would be putting that item up on the in-game auction house. The auction house works similarly to a real life auction. The player can set a starting price and expiration date so that other players may 'Bid' on the item and if nobody bids higher when the item time expires, the player with the highest bid effectively wins the item. On top of setting a starting price, the player has the option of setting a 'Buy Out' price, which a sum that has to be higher or equal to the starting price. The 'Buy Out' option gives others an opportunity to immediately acquire an item should they have enough gold for the purchase, effectively bypassing the need to wait for the item to expire. There are several inherent problems when it comes to the in-game auction house, lets talk about them.

When the game was released, the best way to acquire the best possible items was from the auction house. The best items in the game would go up for millions of in-game gold, and players would effectively have to 'farm' gold by doing repetitive kills of monsters and or repeating quests to get themselves that sweet coin to spend on the auction house, and this brought about what the community calls botters.

Botters are regular players that effectively set up a program that runs a 'Bot' which is similar to playing the game yourself, except they run the bots to farm gold, and without having to actually play the game. Seeing as there is no limit on the number of Diablo 3 accounts a single person can create some of these botters run up and not limited to one hundred accounts, each farming millions of gold per hour. What do they do with this gold? They sell it online for real money, to regular players. Blizzard tried to combat the botting problem ever since Diablo 2 and World of Warcraft(which were and still are in a similar situation) by implementing the ability for the players to purchase gold legally through the auction house at a floored rate of 2.50 USD. Believe it or not, a huge game like Diablo 3 has an economy, and thanks to the botters, and to an extent the ability for players to purchase gold with real money legally the in-game gold is being devalued as a currency, which leads to inflation, the gold is dropping as we speak.

I don't really want to get into a long winded discussion about the gold problem, I do want to say however that this is the first time I've seen something like this happen, where gold in a game is coming to a point of being basically worthless. The issue for me is not with the gold problem, it's with the way the game is set up right at this moment. Above I discussed about the ladder system in Diablo 2 and how every six months it would reset, allowing different players to have a piece of the fame should they choose to work hard toward being on the ladder. Keep in mind that Diablo 2 did not have an auction house, the best items in the game were typically traded among players for other items. Certain people also set up websites on which items were either bough for gold or traded for runes, a very rare type of item one could obtain from killing monsters, allowing the creation of powerful artifact items. What I'm getting at is that Diablo 2 had a system, the ladder through which the players had something to do, whether it was farmign items or gold, or farmign items to defeat other players and rank up on the PvP ladder, Diablo 2 had what gamers call End Game Content, content that is accessed after beating the actual game. Unfortunately Diablo 3 did not see any of this. There are four difficulty modes in Diablo 3 being:

Normal: an introductory difficulty, nothing too hard
Nightmare: Once you beat the game on normal, you unlock this difficulty, in which you start over at the beginning of the game, except you keep your character level and items. In this difficulty the bosses and monsters are tougher and behave more aggressively , making for a moderate challenge.
Hell : Same thing goes here, beating nightmare unlocks hell, and more challenges and loot awaits.
Inferno : The ultimate difficulty, unlocked by beating Hell this difficulty will challenge the best of players.

In order to progress through the difficulties one has to acquire gear, either by finding it or by using the auction house. At games release, it was almost impossible to defeat inferno difficulty with items that you find, and many people fount it too hard without spending gold, and so the auction house it is. Since Diablo 3 lacks a ladder system AND Player versus Player combat(scheduled to be implemented in a future patch) the ultimate goal of any player is beating inferno difficulty, and for that you need items. However that's where it stops, once you beat inferno difficulty there is really nothing more to the game. No ladder, no player versus player(yet). Anything that anyone can do is beat inferno, and since inferno difficulty was made easier in the latest game update, even the casual players can do it now, without necessarily having the best gear in the game. I've since quit playing the game, and the way I see it, the only reason to continue playing the game at this point is farming for gold to buy the best gear possible at the promise of a future player versus player(PvP) implementation, as having better gear than your opponent no doubt gives you an upper hand.

So to wrap up this mini essay, I want to conclude by saying that by involving money in a game shouldn't be done , at least not this way. A few people have been saying that Diablo 3 is is essentially 'Pay to Win' however seeing as there is nothing to 'win' the argument is invalid. Paying for the best items wins you nothing, because there is nothing to do. In the end we can all learn from Blizzard's mistakes, and hope that these issues will be avoided in the future.

Kripparian, Avid Diablo 3 Player and Hardcore Gamer Talks about Diablo 3 Currency + Tips for fixing the game.

Force, another YouTuber discusses the problems with Diablo 3

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